Comic Con fans invade convention center

Fans flocked to Minneapolis for the city’s first Wizard World Comic Convention.

Dave Mathisen dresses as a storm trooper to attend Wizard World's first Minneapolis Comic Con at the Convention Center on Saturday. Mathisen traveled from Fargo, ND to attend.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Dave Mathisen dresses as a storm trooper to attend Wizard World’s first Minneapolis Comic Con at the Convention Center on Saturday. Mathisen traveled from Fargo, ND to attend.

Jeff Hargarten

After setting up dozens of booths at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Friday morning, Matt Thompson and Terry Bick sat back, had a beer and counted the number of Indiana Jones impersonators passing by.

The first-ever Wizard World Minneapolis Comic Con, true to form, provided a space for devotees of everything from Star Trek to Power Rangers to mingle and meet their heroes — including William Shatner, Nathan Fillion, Lou Ferrigno and outgoing “Doctor Who” stars Matt Smith and Karen Gillan.

In terms of size and celebrity turnout, the Wizard Con dwarfed the Twin Cities comic cons that came before it — like Springcon and Fallcon — with a turnout Bick called “something else.”

Diehard fans from all corners of the country were treated to enough sharp swords, corsets, bowties and scantily clad women Friday to make Inspector Gadget’s head spin. Jason David Frank, the original Green Power Ranger, even taught a karate class.

A comic book convention is a celebration of popular culture with a heavy focus on “nerdy” pursuits like comic books, science fiction and fantasy films and table top gaming. National and local comic book creators — both artists and writers — flock to promote their work, touch base with fans and build their followings.

Wizard has hosted conventions across the country, attracting whatever pop culture icons are available for booking. This past weekend was the first time it has landed in Minneapolis, drawing mass excitement from fans spanning multiple cult followings. Even Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges was present for the convention’s grand opening.

Celebrities, including Smith and Gillian as major headliners, posed for photos, signed autographs and held crowded Q&A panels with fans over the course of the weekend, putting the stars of “Doctor Who,” “Arrow,” “Firefly” and “Star Trek” face to face with people who, in some cases, were dressed like their characters.

Creators held their own panels, some of them guiding attendees through the process of writing, drawing and distributing their own comic books. Cons like Wizard World, Springcon and Fallcon can mean big attention for independent creators.

As events centered on pop culture, comic cons make money. They attract not only connoisseurs of the craft, but also models who make a living dressing up for costume events and hanging out at booths.

It was no surprise that vendor Keegan Conrad of Comics to Astonish brought an estimated $500,000 worth of his comic books to the event.

Armed with just a Toyota Tacoma, Conrad had recently toted his entire booth to seven events across the country over the course of eight
weeks.

A collector since he was 5 years old, the Maryland native gestured to one section of his extensive collection and casually explained that it alone was worth $50,000.

“I grew up collecting comics,” Conrad said. “It’s always been a hobby — a lifestyle, even.”

The rookie crowd

Ryan Schmidt, a first-time cosplayer — a person who dresses up as a particular fictional character — trounced around the convention floor in a 10-foot-tall Inspector Gadget costume made from household items.

The 27-year-old was bombarded from all sides by other convention-goers pleading for the cyborg to strike a pose, and he was even a winner in the costume contest.

Dave Mathisen, a stormtrooper from Fargo, N.D., was another newcomer. He said that he’s traveled to various Star Wars conventions in the past but never a comic con of this magnitude.

Mathisen is part of a group known as the 501st Legion — a coalition of people who dress up in the recognizable white armor to bring costume enthusiasts together in a shared passion.

Another recognizable costume — though perhaps a less classic one — that appeared at the convention was Misty, a character from the Pokémon television show.

A group of college-age men, including Minnesota State University-Mankato senior Thor Macklanburg, donned crop-tops, Daisy Dukes and suspenders like Misty’s and made their way through the convention center.

“We want to make people see us and laugh and feel good,” Macklanburg said.